Aquinnah selectmen and assessors try to reach common ground

Appointment of assessors and scope of duty are key issues.


Aquinnah selectmen and assessors tried to keep calm at the July 17 board of selectmen meeting, after lingering issues about appointing assessors versus electing them, and the scope of duty for the assessors, were brought up.

Board of assessors member Marsha Shufrin kicked off the meeting, saying that although the change has already gone into effect, she believes the move from electing board members to appointing them goes against the very notion of democracy, and does not provide the citizens of Aquinnah with adequate opportunity to make their voices heard.

“I like to believe that laws are in place to provide rules of order,” Shufrin said. “But this is not always the case with our laws; they are open to interpretation.” Shufrin explained that the election of fair and just representation in the community is essential, especially in such a small town.

“I strongly believe that the move from election to appointment is a result of festering mistrust and anger in our community toward the board of assessors. I campaigned against this move from election to appointment because, in this democratic country, one does not give up their right to vote for a public official,” Shufrin said.

Shufrin requested the selectmen revisit the issue of appointment versus election of assessors. The board of assessors is open to any opinions and concerns that the people of Aquinnah may have, she said.

In her statement, Shufrin requested that she be appointed to the Aquinnah board of assessors for a three-year term. Although the appointment had already been agreed upon based on the 129-vote unopposed win for Shufrin in May, chairman Gary Haley and selectmen Julianne Vanderhoop and Jim Newman voted to confirm her position.

Haley, chairman of the Aquinnah board of selectmen, thanked Shufrin for her statement, and for her continued dedication to the board: “You are capable, Marsha; you are an asset to the whole board of assessors.”

Newman said he agreed with Shufrin in principle, but followed up by mentioning a lack of oversight regarding the actions of assessor Angela Cywinski and the general scope of duty of appointed assessors.

“People have to understand what the job description is, and what is being done outside that job description,” said Newman. “Calling the Department of Revenue and questioning warrant articles, that is not in the domain of the assessor.”

When Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison called Cywinski by name, she became irate. “You have gone too far, Jeff, you do not mention my name,” she said.

Cywinski later told the Times that contacting the Department of Revenue was not stepping out of place for the assessors, and that she has not strayed from the parameters of her position.

“Being a tax assessor is one of the most difficult jobs one can have,” Cywinski said. “I told all the departments about contacting the revenue service; there was nothing behind the scenes.”

Cywinski also said appointing board members instead of electing them gives too much power to the selectmen. “It’s all about control; the selectmen want to control the actions of the assessors,” said Cywinski.

This job description and what it entails have been hot issues in Aquinnah ever since the two boards butted heads at an informal meeting in 2017.

Chairman of the board of assessors Elise LeBovit said she disagrees with the idea that contacting the Department of Revenue was not part of the duties of an assessor.

She said the Department of Revenue is the only legal backup that the assessors have. “We don’t have the respect of the selectmen,” said LeBovit. “Our greatest problem is that you don’t have our backs.”

Vanderhoop said the selectmen and the assessors must work together to gain the trust of taxpayers. “We need to repair this by realizing the responsibilities we have, and not overstepping our bounds,” said Vanderhoop.

In other business, efforts to exterminate rats and other rodents on the property of the Aquinnah town hall have been largely ineffective. “Rodents are busy destroying things in the kitchen,” said Vanderhoop.

Assistant to the board of health Phoenix Becker said a company has been doing regular exterminations on the property, but the rodents keep coming back. She suggested that the town have a company look into rodent-proofing options such as shielding and shutting off access points. She also requested that a company come in to clean the town hall of any droppings or food scraps left by the rodents. The selectmen accepted these suggestions, and said they would inquire about rodent-proofing and cleaning options.

The Aquinnah police also requested that detail pay for full-time patrolmen be increased from the current rate of $55 per hour to $60 per hour, and overtime rates from $82.50 per hour to $90 per hour. This increase is following the Edgartown Police Department raising its hourly detail pay.

These rates would apply to police details for vendors separate from the state and town, such as Eversource or Verizon. If a company wants a road unit to assist them, they pay the detail fee, according to Aquinnah Police Sgt. Paul Manning.

Manning also brought up the fact that most towns charge a 10 percent processing fee to private vendors for police details, while Aquinnah has no such administrative fee in place.

The board passed a motion to include the 10 percent fee in private police details, as well as to increase both the normal police detail and the overtime detail pay rates.